Old buildings, old bridges and grief
“There,” my mother would say, waving her hand in the direction of the passenger-side window, as we approached the intersection of Sam Houston and Main, “is where Griffin’s Drug Store used to be. Then it was a shoe store for a long time. I’ll tell you, we might not have survived had it not been for Bill Griffin. When your father, or I, or one of you kids, was sick and we needed a prescription filled, we never had any money to pay for it. But Mr. Griffin would always let us have what we needed on credit. He knew your daddy would pay it off eventually.”
There was a two-story, red brick building where the bank parking lot is now and Griffin’s Drug store was on the first floor.
She would recall herself and other children sitting on the sidewalk reading the comic books kept on an outdoor rack. They read them, she said, but never bought one. She believed Mr. Griffin didn’t mind, that he carried comic books just so the children could read them.
“No one back then,” she would say, “ever had a dime for a comic book.”
When she was done with Griffin’s, she might then point in the other direction, if we were stopped at the light long enough for her to think about it, and tell me that at the other end of that block was where the Bailey brothers had their radio shop. Then vaguely indicating some place further on, my mother would tell me is where her father had his machine shop and garage.
She might then recall her route home from school in the afternoons, walking from the elementary that was where the “new” post office is — and it remains the “new” post office to me even now. She walked by the courthouse, then across Main Street to First Liberty National Bank, where Tarver is now and where the savings and loan was back when she would tell me the story. The bank had the only elevator in town. She would go in, ride the elevator to the top and back down and then go on her way.
She told the story as if she had done that every day, and maybe she did, because after telling it my mother would shake her head and wonder out loud why no one at the bank ever made her stop.
If that memory did not occur to her, then she would usually talk about her father and how the old lady who lived across the street from his shop and was always angry over the noise he made there when he worked at night and kept the old woman awake.
My mother would remember sometimes being up in the wee hours and seeing her father lying on their living room floor with his head propped up on a footstool reading. She said he would read all night and then get up in the morning and go to work.
Like the other story, this one always ended with my mother shaking her head in wonder.
“I don’t know how he did it,” she would say.
As a child I had no idea why my parents told such stories over and over again, but I get it now. They wanted to remember it all themselves and remember the people they had known because even decades later they still grieved their loss.
My mother could not drive by the bank’s parking lot without remembering the drug store that had once been there and the kindness of the man who ran it. She could not pass it without grieving a little for her father whose shop was just down the street, and maybe grieve a little, too, for Mr. Griffin and Mr. Bailey, or her childhood playmates, or even the tellers in the bank who never forbid her access to their elevator.
I surprise myself now with how upset I can be over changes to the old town. I still do not like the “new” post office, and I’m still a little mad about their tearing down the old Mercy Hospital. I know there is no good reason for that, but I am.
I am far more unhappy than I have any reason to be whenever county officials talk about making changes to the courthouse, and the prospect of losing the old railroad bridge has floored me.
This is all silly nonsense, I know. I don’t really care that much about the bridge and have no reason to be sad about it being replaced, but I can’t help it.
It’s not the loss of the bridge I grieve, but I am grieving so very much now I can hardly bear it.
It brings back to mind the loss of my parents, of my grandparents, of uncles and aunts and cousins and friends. The place where I grew up, that I thought would stay the same forever, is changing. I know change is inevitable and might be for the better. Still, I doubt I will ever look at the new bridge without remembering the old one and grieving a little.
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